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Reptile zoo in southeast Minnesota celebrates 15 years of captivating visitors

Snakes and turtles and crocodiles, oh my! How the RAD zoo educates the public on a wide variety of r
RAD zoo educates the public on a wide variety of rare reptiles and amphibians 02:42

MEDFORD, Minn. — Claws, scales, teeth and tails: There's a place in Medford where alligators and snakes have taken over.

It's feeding time for Sally and Allie. And with every bite of chicken comes a fast fact about alligators.

"She would bite harder than a grizzly bear," said Jamie Pastika, while feeding Allie the alligator.

The alligators are just a couple of the creatures that get your attention at the Reptile and Amphibian Discovery Zoo — also known as RAD.

Pastika is the man behind it all. He was born in northern Minnesota but mostly grew up in Florida and became a zookeeper at Animal Kingdom.

Then, one day, he and his family decided to leave the swamps for the land of 10,000 lakes. And they brought along a few of their friends.

"The scaly and slimy are our primary focus here. I had gone to Reptile Gardens when I was 6 years old. I thought that was the coolest place on Earth. So, I just built my own," said Pastika.


"Over half of our animals at the zoo here are rescues. So, we started taking on more and more animals. Once we got a facility, we started getting more and more calls," Pastika said.

That includes a call to take Justin Bieber's former pet boa constrictor. Pastika thought it was a prank at first, but it turned out to be very real. 

"One day in December I got a box with a very chilly boa constrictor. I was like, oh wow," Pastika said.

A big part of what they do here is conservation and education. While these animals take field trips to schools, oftentimes the students visit them.

"I was like wow, it's so cool right here," said Sawyer Moger, who is in first grade.

Another first-grader, Presley Eide, says the crocodiles are her favorite animal at the zoo. 

"Just to see the look on the kids' faces when they get to see an animal they've seen on videos or YouTube and they get to just hold one. It's kind of a cool thing to watch," Pastika said.

Pastika and his family hope visitors leave with a new appreciation for reptiles and amphibians. Because for them, workdays are always a snap.

"When your dog doesn't want to go to the vet, that's one thing. When your 500-pound alligator doesn't want to go to the vet, it's rodeo day," Pastika said.

The RAD Zoo is located in the Medford Outlet Mall and it's open seven days a week. Pastika's family also runs a YouTube page where they educate people about their animals.

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